Politics & Policy

President Biden: ‘I Think Senator Kerry Has a Little Hyperbole There’

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on climate change prior to signing executive actions as White House climate envoy John Kerry and Vice President Kamala Harris listen in the State Dining Room at the White House, January 27, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Earlier this month, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry helpfully explained to a French television station that President Biden simply had no idea that the U.S.–U.K.–Australia deal on submarines would irk the French government, and “had not been aware of what had transpired.”

A few days ago, Kerry was again similarly helpful to his boss in an interview with the Associated Press:

Kerry also spoke of the impact if the U.S. Congress — under a slim Democratic majority — fails to pass legislation for significant action on climate by the United States itself, as the Biden administration aims to regain leadership on climate action. “It would be like President Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement, again,” Kerry said.

In a brief exchange with reporters Friday, Biden offered the first sense that he’s getting a little tired of Kerry going off-message:

Q    Secretary Kerry said the other day that if you come to Scotland without legislation passed by Congress — your climate bill — that would be as bad for credibility as when Trump pulled out of Paris.  What do you make of that?  That’s what Secretary Kerry said.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I — I think it’d be good to have an agreement on the climate piece, but we’re going to get the climate piece.  And I think Senator Kerry has a little hyperbole there. He pulled out.  And the question is whether or not I have enough Republicans who understand the plan that’s in jeopardy.  And that’s what we’re working on.

But hey, who could have possibly predicted that John Kerry would go rogue, add pressure to the administration instead of alleviating it, and make himself look good at Biden’s expense?

Culture

‘Truth, Justice, and . . . Whatever’

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I wrote about the latest on Superman today on the home page:

We don’t know yet whether Superman reads Ibram X. Kendi and dutifully attends diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops at the Justice League, but at this point, who would be surprised?

The latest on the straight-arrow, earnest do-gooder who used to help sell war bonds is that he is forswearing any further reference to “the American way.”

World

Are We Going to Act in Time for Those Persecuted by China?

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This afternoon, you are invited to join the Anglosphere Society, Knights of Columbus, the Hudson Institute, and National Review Institute in discussing religious liberty and free speech in China and those within its grip. I’m honored to be interviewing Gulchehra Hoja, who is a journalist with Radio Free Asia, and is an incredible witness to what is happening to the Uyghur Muslims (of which she is one) and other religious minorities in China. I’ll also be talking with Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, and Jillian Kay Melchoir from the Wall Street Journal (and National Review alumna). The afternoon’s conference is really the work of Amanda Bowman, whose heart for religious liberty and the persecuted, has made this an annual event.

Act in Time II: Beijing’s Long Arm: China’s Threat to Religious Freedom and Options for the West. Amanda will be interviewing Robert Destro, human-rights lawyer. Sam Brownback, former U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, and Cardinal Dolan will be in conversation this evening. And many more including Lord David Alton via video. One of my segments will be on Hong Kong, and while dire, it’s not lost yet, as our panel will discuss. We are the ones living through this time and have a responsibility to our fellow human beings living in the reach of China’s long arm. Listen in this afternoon here.

What If Colin Powell Ran for President in 1996?

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Colin Powell on December 9, 2001. (Sergei Karpukhin CVI/Reuters)

In Jim Geraghty’s excellent tribute to the life and career of Colin Powell, he teases one of the great counterfactuals in modern political history: What if Powell decided to run for president in 1996? I have some thoughts.

Powell formally announced he was not going to run in November 1995. Just that fall, polls showed Bill Clinton easily beating Bob Dole, but losing to Powell by 15 points. When Powell made his announcement, “At the West Wing of the White House, aides watched the news conference with smiles and sighs of relief,” according to a Baltimore Sun news report at the

Health Care

Colin Powell and COVID-19 Commentary

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A nurse fills syringes for patients as they receive their coronavirus booster vaccinations in Southfield, Mich., September 29, 2021. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

Some news websites are hyping the fact that Colin Powell died of COVID-19 even though he was fully vaccinated, and people are jumping on their hobbyhorses. Some are rushing in to shout about the ineffectiveness of the vaccine or the speed of waning immunity. Pro-vaccine voices are jumping in to say that actually it shows that one person’s vaccine isn’t enough, that everyone around a person needs to be vaccinated, and that if more people had taken the vaccine, Powell would still be alive. 

I think both responses, besides being unseemly, are probably wrong. We don’t know how he got it — it could have been from a vaccinated or unvaccinated person — and it’s not all that important. COVID-19 is going endemic. This means that 84-year-old men with Powell’s conditions — he suffered from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that attacks the immune system — may die from the virus. This happens all the time with endemic diseases that have a mild expression in most healthy adults. Typically in these situations we would point to the cancer, not the cold or flu.

May he rest in peace.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Department of Intimidation

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A.G. Merrick Garland speaks about the Derek Chauvin verdict, in Washington, D.C., April 21, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

Joe Biden’s Justice Department has crossed a line in threatening to investigate and prosecute parents for protesting against school boards and teachers who insist on indoctrinating children with critical race theory.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, once nominated as a “moderate” pick for the Supreme Court by President Obama, claimed that free-speech principles yield not only to “threats of violence” but also to “efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views” (we assume he might think the harassment of Senators Manchin and Sinema may be fine).

Jim Sensenbrenner says the Garland move is an outrageous attempt to use federal laws to suppress political opponents. In a scathing Wall Street Journal op-ed he wrote: “As principal author of the Patriot Act and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during its consideration, I find it necessary to remind the Biden administration that the Patriot Act doesn’t apply to parents’ behavior at school-board meetings.”

Almost equally as disturbing is the fact that Garland has a family financial conflict of interest as he directs the FBI to investigate parents who are protesting against the use of CRT in schools. His son-in-law, Alexander Tanner, is the president of Panorama Education, which distributes CRT indoctrination material to public schools.

The vast majority of incidents that teacher unions have cited as the basis for the DOJ action don’t involve threats of violence — which are issues for state and local law-enforcement agencies, not the FBI.

Garland’s memo is an attempt to intimidate opponents and silence opposition. It is exactly the opposite of what the Justice Department should be doing.

National Security & Defense

Zubaydah Update: DOJ Will Let Him Testify . . . but Then What?

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(renaschild/Getty Images)

Last week, I related that among the first cases up for oral argument in the Supreme Court’s new term was one brought by al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah (whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn). Zubaydah is trying to force the government to permit testimony by two CIA contractors about his forcible interrogation (including waterboarding), and specifically about its alleged occurrence at a “black site” facility the agency used in Poland, assertedly in collaboration with Polish intelligence officials, circa 2002-03.

The narrow issue before the Court is the application of the state-secrets privilege, which allows the government to decline disclosures detrimental to national security, including the compromise of intelligence cooperation between nations, on which our defense often depends.

Following up on a 2014 ruling by a European human-rights court, which found that Zubaydah was subjected to torture, Polish authorities are investigating. Zubaydah’s lawsuit is an effort to force the U.S. to disclose classified information tying the interrogation tactics (about which much has already been publicly acknowledged) to Poland and its intelligence operatives in the relevant time frame. The Justice Department has made a strong case that it has properly invoked the state-secrets privilege to forfend the testimony of the CIA contractors.

As I recounted, during last week’s argument, a number of the justices pressed the Biden Justice Department’s acting solicitor general, Brian Fletcher, on whether the government had thought about allowing Zubaydah himself to testify. Justice Neil Gorsuch, in particular, seemed exasperated by indications that this had not been considered, seeing it as a potential “off-ramp” that would obviate the need for the Court to decide the state-secrets question.

Acting SG Fletcher committed that the Justice Department would huddle and get back to the Court. On Friday, Fletcher sent the Court a letter agreeing to permit Zubaydah to pen a declaration that could be transmitted from Guantanamo Bay, where he has been in custody since 2006, to Polish prosecutors. The Justice Department explained that, a decade ago, Polish authorities began seeking assistance from our government “to facilitate Abu Zubaydah’s testimony about his allegation” of forcible interrogation. In 2015, after years of inter-governmental discussions, our government finally denied the request under the terms of the bilateral Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. (The MLAT permits each country to decline to produce information on national-security grounds.)

The matter has apparently lain dormant until the Court raised it last week. Fletcher cautioned that, while the terrorist would now be permitted to “describe[e] his treatment while in CIA custody[,]”the government reserved the right to redact “information that could prejudice the security of the United States.” The acting SG did not speculate on what type of information that could be, but surely the Justice Department is not going to permit, through the Zubaydah backdoor, the dissemination of information the government would be entitled to withhold via the state-secrets privilege.

As I explained last week, I doubt there is much chance that Zubaydah has such information. The main objective of Zubaydah’s lawsuit is to help the Polish authorities establish when Zubaydah was in Poland (assuming that he was, as is highly likely) and who subjected him to “enhanced” interrogation tactics there 18 years ago. I continue to believe it is doubtful, to say the least, that he can give reliable testimony on those subjects. Such details would have been kept from him.

That is to say, the Court will have to decide the state-secrets issue in the case, regardless of whether Zubaydah provides a sworn declaration to Polish prosecutors.

Politics & Policy

Republicans Are Winning the Fight over Voting Laws

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Republicans themselves don’t all realize it, but they’re winning the political debate over voting laws.

It’s not just that Republicans are pushing through the laws they favor in multiple states while Democrats in Washington have not been able to enact anything. That difference is mostly a result of the Senate’s 50-50 tie and the filibuster. What’s worse for the Democrats, their attack on Republicans as “vote suppressors” who are instituting a “new Jim Crow” does not seem to be inflicting any political damage. . . .

My column today.

Politics & Policy

One Brave Professor Calls CRT Marxism

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University of Pittsburgh professor of pharmaceutical sciences, Michael Vanyukov, has spoken out against the infiltration of critical race theory into colleges. He says that it is just a rehashing of Marxism, designed to divide people and empower the government.

He might know what he’s talking about, having escaped from the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago.

Legal Insurrection has Vanyukov’s story here.

He states, “Like the Soviet communists, who used class-based hate and rhetoric to control the ‘masses’ and build the society of ideological slaves, the ‘Diversity’ departments use race. In a way, that is worse, because one can change one’s class, but race is forever.”

The “progressives” used to call this speaking truth to power.

How long before Professor Vanyukov is targeted for cancellation?

U.S.

Rest in Peace, Colin Powell

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President George H.W. Bush (second from right) meets with his military advisors at the Pentagon to discuss the Gulf crisis, August 15, 1990. From left: General Norman Schwarzkopf, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Bush, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

On paper, it shouldn’t be shocking to hear that an 84-year-old man succumbed to complications from COVID-19. And yet, this morning’s announcement that former secretary of state and retired general Colin Powell passed away comes as a shock, another marker of the end of a better era in our politics.

Way back in 1995, I stood in a long line to get a copy of Powell’s autobiography, My American Journey, autographed. Maybe there was a little naivete in the seemingly widespread, and seemingly bipartisan belief that an African-American president would bring racial reconciliation and an era of good feelings. At that point, the only thing most Americans knew about Powell is what they had seen of him in the television briefings during the Persian Gulf War – professional, direct, the occasional dramatic flare from the simplicity of his statements, cutting through the usual Washington jargon: “Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it.”

For a potential presidential candidate, it is near ideal to be associated with traits like directness, clarity, the sense of being a classic American success story and a key architect of a resounding U.S. military victory. It’s hard to overstate how much people in the early 1990s just expected Powell to be the first African American president someday. The sci-fi television show SeaQuest DSV, set in the, er, far future of the year 2018, worked in a reference to “former president Colin Powell.”

But by 1995, Powell had decided not to run for president – Bill Clinton was allegedly terrified of running against him. Powell told the public he lacked the passion and commitment for political life; his wife, Alma, reportedly threatened to leave him if he ran for president, fearing Powell would be targeted for assassination by a racist. We’re left to wonder how recent American history might have turned out differently if Alma Powell had less fear of her husband being assassinated.

Uninterested in the presidency, Powell moved into a position a few rungs lower on the ladder, becoming Secretary of State in 2001. In Washington, Powell was perceived as a voice of moderation in the administration in contrast to Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but that was fueled in part by the fact that Secretaries of State always see diplomatic solutions and Secretaries of Defense always see military solutions.

But Powell had been reticent about military force before George W. Bush came to the presidency and was not a fan of Democratic interventions, clashing with his predecessor as Secretary of State, Madeline Albright.

Albright was an early opponent of the Powell doctrine that the United States should restrict its military interventions to situations in which its vital interests are threatened, and should always insist on using overwhelming force. In his memoirs, Powell recalled that he almost had “an aneurysm” when Albright challenged him to explain “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

Albright jabbed at Powell shortly before turning over the State Department to him.

“You know, Gen. Powell wrote a book and one of the problems with writing a book is that it takes a while to get it published,” Albright said. “It was, I think, probably ironic that just at the time that this [book] came out, in fact, the limited application of limited force in Bosnia was working.”

Powell entered the Bush administration with a sterling, heroic reputation and put considerable effort into maintaining it. David Frum described Powell as the “deadliest bureaucratic knife fighter in the whole Bush administration.” Powell was widely believed to be one of Bob Woodward’s top sources for years, going back to the 1991 book The Commanders; Powell was usually portrayed as the wise and careful figure in Woodward’s accounts of the Bush administration.

It’s hard to shake the sense that Powell was mortified for his role in making the case for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, particularly his presentation at the United Nations about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. He told NPR in 2006, “When people ask me, is this a blot on your record? Yeah, okay, fine. It’s a blot on my record. It’s there for everybody to see forever. But do you want me to walk around saying, I have a blot on my record every day?”

Powell never endorsed a Republican for president again, even though he donated to John McCain’s 2008 campaign during the primary.

Apparently Powell’s polite, buttoned-down public persona obscured a blunt, and sometimes funny assessment of other top figures in American politics. He endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, but a leaked private e-mail revealed his true feelings: “I would rather not have to vote for her, although she is a friend I respect,” he wrote in the email dated July 26, 2014. “A 70-year-old person with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational, with a husband still d***ing bimbos at home.”

In those leaked e-mails, Powell called Donald Trump a “national disgrace and an international pariah,” and showed scorn for his old Bush administration rivals:

The emails, some of which were first reported by BuzzFeed News, also show Mr. Powell venting about some members of Mr. Bush’s administration. In one reference to Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, he accuses “the idiot Rummy” of being disloyal to both President Bushes. In another email, Mr. Powell calls Dick Cheney, the former vice president, and his daughter Liz Cheney “idiots and a spent force peddling a book that ain’t going nowhere.”

Powell had his flaws, but he cared deeply about his country, tackled its problems with great intellect, astute wisdom and relentless drive, and spent 35 years in uniform before another four years as Secretary of State. He wasn’t always right, and wasn’t always easy to agree with, but he was always easy to respect. He will be missed.

World

Leopoldo and Others

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Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López talks to the media at the residence of the Spanish ambassador in Caracas, Venezuela, May 2, 2019. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters)

I had always wanted to meet and talk with Leopoldo López. He is a symbol of Venezuelan democracy, and indeed a symbol of democracy worldwide. He was arrested and imprisoned in February 2014. In October 2020, he made a dramatic escape from Venezuela. He is now exiled in Spain. I talked with him earlier this month at the Oslo Freedom Forum. For our podcast, go here. And today I have a piece on him, on the homepage: here.

For years, I have repeated his slogan: “El que se cansa, pierde” — “He who tires, loses.” Leopoldo is not yet tired and I doubt ever will be. An extraordinary person, who has led an extraordinary life. Full of amazing choices.

I will publish some mail, here on the Corner. In my column on Friday, I spoke of people who crossed from East to West and marveled at the food they saw. (This was in Cold War times.) Forget buildings, monuments, and the like — they marveled at the food, in its abundance. Eye-popping.

A reader writes,

You have reminded me of the time that Boris Yeltsin visited my parents’ local supermarket in Houston. Yeltsin was then a member of the Supreme Soviet and was visiting the Johnson Space Center. He asked for a visit to the supermarket, too.

Here is a 2017 article about this event (which occurred in September 1989). I will quote:

He looked especially excited about frozen pudding pops.

“Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” he said. When he was told through his interpreter that there were thousands of items in the store for sale, he didn’t believe it. He even thought that the store was staged, a show for him.

In a different column, I bemoaned “to advocate for,” which is an error that seems lodged in our language — undislodgeable. A professor writes,

I share your aversion to that usage, that misusage: “to advocate for.” I sometimes say “to be an advocate for,” as in, “Gonzalez decided to be an advocate for school choice.” Still not as good as “Gonzalez decided to advocate school choice” — but an option.

In that same column, I spoke of this common formulation: “There are two kinds of people in the world . . .” A reader writes with a joke: “There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t.”

Another reader writes,

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

Please put me on the distribution list for Impromptus. I love your combination of erudition, wordplay, and curmudgeonhood.

My spell-checker rejected “curmudgeonhood,” and I couldn’t find it in any dictionary, but I did find it in several blogs. . . .

Keep up the good work!

Ha, thank you. (It’s not so much that I have become a curmudgeon as that I started out as one, way back.)

How about this next note? A reader writes,

Sign me up, please. Hopefully, my retirement will begin in a year or two, so I am trying to line up my Chestertons, Menckens, and Nordlingers.

Well, I never. Wasn’t there a children’s show that asked, “Which one of these is not like the others?” In any event, thank you to all readers and correspondents. If you would like to receive Impromptus by e-mail, write jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

And if you don’t know Leopoldo López, you will want to get to know him: again, here.

Education

A Way to Help Students Figure Out if College Is Worth the Expense

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(zimmytws/Getty Images)

Not so long ago, the conventional wisdom in America was that college was worth it. Period. College grads earned way more than did people without such credentials, so it was a no-brainer. Enroll in college, borrow as much as needed, and later the rewards will roll in.

Within the last decade or so, Americans have begun to doubt the old conventional wisdom. It has become apparent that college credentials don’t magically lead to high-paying jobs. Lots of graduates wind up doing jobs they could have done while still in high school, weighed down by the money they borrowed for credentials that turned out to have little value. And sometimes the fault lies in the student himself, having coasted through college having fun and accumulating easy credits.

To help students decide whether college is worth it or not, a group called Third Way has recently released a “mapping tool” meant to assist students, and, in today’s Martin Center article, Chris West takes a look at it.

West writes, “The tool is equipped with an interactive map, clear explanations of the authors’ methodology, and a number of helpful comparative data dashboards. Their simple formula calculates a ‘price-to-earnings premium,’ i.e., how many years it takes the average student from a given institution to recoup their educational costs.”

He used it to see what it said about a range of colleges and universities in North Carolina, ranging from community colleges to prestige universities. Some of the best value is found in community colleges, although not all are. The state’s major universities appear to have reasonable paybacks.

Students shouldn’t treat this tool as proof of anything though. West notes its limitations. “Another important consideration to keep in mind is that this tool does not account for the opportunity costs of earning a degree. These institutions take anywhere from two to four years to earn a credential, a time during which students are generally either unemployed or significantly underemployed,” he notes.

I would add that averages can always be deceiving. Just because the average graduate of College X recoups his investment in Y years doesn’t mean that you will.

The Economy

East Coast Ports: You’re Next

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Container ships wait off the coast of the congested ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., October 1, 2021. (Alan Devall/Reuters)

With congestion at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach causing massive backups, shippers have started to send more freight to the East Coast instead, according to Supply Chain Dive. The major ports on the East Coast, such as New York/New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston, and Savannah, are reporting higher cargo volumes as other West Coast alternatives, such as Seattle and Vancouver, are becoming congested as well.

To get from East Asia to the East Coast of the United States, ships must pass through the Panama Canal. That adds about seven days to a ship’s journey and about $3,000 to the price of a container, but backups are so severe that those costs are becoming worthwhile.

Supply Chain Dive reports that East Coast ports are more confident they will be able to handle increased cargo loads. The Florida Ports Council is practically begging shippers to send their freight through Tampa or Miami instead of waiting in line off the coast of Southern California. In a rhetorical flourish, the council’s president and CEO said, “Our seaports are the solution to ensure the cargo shipping logjam doesn’t become the grinch that stole Christmas.” The Port of Charleston has invested about $2 billion in infrastructure improvements over the last few years. The Port of Savannah’s capacity will increase when a major construction project is completed in December. As Rich Lowry noted in his recent piece for Politico, the Port of Virginia is more automated than other American ports and is better equipped to handle increased volume.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) only represents workers at the major ports on the West Coast of the United States and Canada. The ILWU’s stranglehold on West Coast ports has caused labor prices to skyrocket and made technological development difficult since the union sees increased automation as a threat to its workers. East Coast workers are represented by the International Longshoremen’s Association, which has historically been less effective than the ILWU at restricting the labor supply and stifling automation.

People are forward-looking, and they find ways to improve outcomes when they see something is not working. Our West Coast ports are not working, so East Coast ports are becoming more attractive. That creates new challenges by increasing stress on East Coast infrastructure. Over the past 30 years, Pacific trade has become much more important than Atlantic trade, so West Coast ports have gotten most of the attention.

Problems in competitive systems are never static, which is one reason why government solutions often don’t work. It was only a few days ago that the Biden administration was patting itself on the back for supposedly cajoling Los Angeles and Long Beach into operating 24/7. That was a step in the right direction, but shippers were already looking at the East Coast at that point. Government is never going to be as fast in coming up with solutions as the people with money on the line and promises to keep. If the East Coast can step up and take some pressure off the West Coast, that would be a welcome development.

Politics & Policy

Biden Contradicts Pelosi on How to Shrink $3.5 Trillion Bill

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden at a signing ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 30, 2021 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden has taken the total opposite position of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when it comes to deciding how to shrink the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.

Faced with the prospect of reducing the price tag of their social spending legislation into something Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema can swallow, Democrats have been debating two different approaches.

Let’s just say Sinema and Manchin would agree to spend $2 trillion. Under one approach, Democrats would take that money and focus on a smaller number of priorities, and permanently fund them. Under another approach, which has become popular in certain corners of the Left, Democrats wouldn’t sacrifice any of their priorities. Instead, they would take everything they want to do and fund it for a few years, in hopes that they as people become dependent on them, there would be pressure to renew them, even were Republicans to retake power.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter released on Monday, Pelosi appeared to settle this question, explaining, “Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis: a Build Back Better agenda for jobs and the planet For The Children!”

Yet now Biden is saying the exact opposite. Speaking to reporters last night, he said, “it’s not going to be $3.5 trillion.  So, the question is: How much of what is important do we get into the legislation?  I’m of the view that it’s important to establish the principle on a whole range of issues without guaranteeing you get the whole 10 years.  It — it doesn’t — it matters to establish it.”

For all the talk about the division between moderates and progressives, it turns out that Biden and Pelosi aren’t even on the same page.

Politics & Policy

Bernie Sanders Torches the Idea That His $3.5 Trillion Bill Is ‘Popular’

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Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Senate Budget Committee’s hearing to examine President Biden’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2022, June 8, 2021. (Shawn Thew/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Bernie Sanders has taken to offering two talking points in favor of his preposterous $3.5 trillion spending bill. The first talking point holds that it is somehow outrageous that 52 Senators are able to prevent 48 Senators from passing the legislation he covets. The second talking point is that his bill is “popular.”

The first claim is so ridiculous that Joe Manchin has begun calling it out in his press releases. The second is so ridiculous that . . . well, Bernie Sanders has begun calling it out in his press releases.

Yesterday, Sanders issued a statement that began like this:

Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation – and the need to lower prescription drug costs, expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision, greatly improve home health care, make child care and housing affordable, establish Paid Family and Medical Leave and address the existential threat of climate change. And the polling numbers go astronomically high when people understand that this $3.5 trillion bill will be paid for by demanding that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.

Which sounds really promising for Sanders. Until we get to the second paragraph, in which he explains that:

polling also shows that despite President Biden having introduced this proposal five months ago, a majority of Americans have very little knowledge as to what is in this bill – one of the most consequential pieces of legislation for working people in the modern history of our country. Americans can be for the bill. They can be opposed to the bill. But it is absurd that so many of them don’t know what is in the bill.

In his conclusion, Bernie writes that “It is hard to ask people to have faith in their government when they have little understanding of what their government is trying to do.” Perhaps so. But it is also “hard” — read: impossible — to say that Americans exhibit “overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation” when when, per your own admission, “a majority of Americans have very little knowledge as to what is in this bill.”

U.S.

‘Chappelle Takes on the Woke Scolds’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Michael, and Phil discuss the supply-chain disruptions, Netflix pushing on the woke mob over the Dave Chappelle special, and more. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Culture

20 Things That Caught My Eye: The Life behind Abortion; Muslims & Religious Liberty; & More

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1. Meet Baby Olivia 

2.

3. Listening to the heartbeat of the pro-life movement: an interview with Maria McFadden of The Human Life Review 

4. Pope Francis:

All health care professionals have a right to conscientious objection, just as they have a right to denounce unjust harm inflicted on innocent and defenseless life, Pope Francis said.

When it comes to abortion, “I have been very clear — it is homicide and it is not licit to become complicit,” he told a group of pharmacists and other medical professionals.

5. Mustafa Akyol: Why, As a Muslim, I Defend Religious Liberty

Religious coercion does not lead to genuine piety. It only leads to hypocrisy. If people are forced to practice a religion, they don’t do it out of a sincere will to obey God. They do it out a disdained obligation to obey men.

Continue reading “20 Things That Caught My Eye: The Life behind Abortion; Muslims & Religious Liberty; & More”

Pete Buttigieg Should Not Be Taking Two Months off during a Supply-Chain Crisis

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg takes a question during a press briefing about the administration’s response to the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack shut down at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As America faces a mounting transportation crisis — the disruption of shipping supply chains — Jim Geraghty asked yesterday exactly what it is that Joe Biden’s “Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force” has been doing since Biden named it in June. We then got a partial answer that has people up in arms at Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, one of the leaders of the task force:

They didn’t previously announce it, but Buttigieg’s office told West Wing Playbook that the secretary has actually been on paid leave since mid-August to spend time with his husband, Chasten, and their two newborn babies. “For the

Culture

Another Nine Boxes: When ‘Medical Waste’ Is a Mirror on the Soul of a Nation

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Outside Planned Parenthood in lower Manhattan on October 15, 2021. (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

Around 1 p.m. today, I went to pray a Rosary across the street from Planned Parenthood in Manhattan. I try to do that daily when I am in New York. For a good while, I was praying — and sometimes sidewalk counseling — there in the mornings. I watched how on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, a truck would come with boxes to take away “regulated medical waste.” I am usually out there in the afternoons now. I see girls going in and leaving — there are morning and afternoon rounds of surgical abortions most days, as best I can tell. The afternoon is brutal, because you see girls after they’ve had their abortions. Some are beside themselves. Some of their boyfriends can’t even bother to open a car door for them. That’s all a long way of saying that I did not expect to see the truck and the boxes going in to be filled, and coming out to be driven away. What’s so shocking — besides the fact of it — is no one seems to notice. It’s like it could be another Amazon delivery happening. This is death — murder under euphemisms — before our eyes, and people just pass by and don’t notice.

Today I saw nine boxes of “medical waste.” As I mentioned, the last time I checked, this happens at least three times a week. Lord have mercy on us.

How many of our young people are walking wounded, never given a chance to do anything but be enslaved to a pornified culture of death? And not just our young people. Fifty years of the lie that abortion is a choice, health care, a good.

I went to Mass a block away earlier, and the visiting priest decried violence on the streets in Chicago. But we overlook the other violence on our streets. Every day, people walk past this clinic, thinking nothing of it. Even a pro-lifer outside seemed numb to the boxes passing by him.

Where are our tears? Where is our reparation for this evil? Where is our superabundance of love for moms who don’t know they are moms, for girls who don’t know what tremendous value their lives, hearts, minds, and souls are? We get into frenzies of outrage. Abortion is at the root of them all. We sever the relationship between a mother and her child. No wonder we are callous in so many other ways.

Thank you, everyone who does the work of being the arms and hands and hearts and ears of love in the pro-life movement. And if you’ve had an abortion or more or had a role to play in one, I am sorry. You deserved better than that. And there are people who will help you in your grieving, no matter how recent or long ago your abortion was. Those of us who oppose abortion don’t judge you; we love you and want better for you and your child than what this culture of death says is women’s empowerment. It’s a grave lie, and it has wrought misery on lives. And every one of us living in this country today has a duty to help mothers be mothers and expectant fathers to be fathers and to love them enough to equip them to be.

We’re living in his country today and let this be just another political issue all too often. It’s not just another political issue. It’s a human travesty. We can talk about things happening a world away — and should! But there’s a genocide happening here. (There are Black Lives Matters signs in the Noho neighborhood where Planned Parenthood is. Do the people with those signs know that in some zip codes in New York City, more black babies are aborted than are allowed to be born?) Do we care? It’s about more than a Supreme Court case. New York will still have abortions, just as abortions are still happening in Texas, even with the law prohibiting them. I doubt the law in New York will ever get it right. So how do we help girls and women?

Let nine boxes today be a challenge to us all. What more can we do to love girls and women and all who pressure them away from abortion?

For your consideration: Some links and things for those of you who want to do more, support alternatives to abortion, or want to seek help for yourself or someone you love.

www.abortionchangesyou.com

https://postabortionhelp.org

sistersoflife.org

Talking with the Human Coalition in Texas:

Talking with Ben and Kirsten Watson about their documentary, Divided Hearts of America:

Here’s Carter Snead talking about what it means to be human

What does it mean to be pro-life? with Erika Bachiochi and Sister Magdalene Teresa

 

 

Health Care

There Is Debate about Vaccine Mandates. Can We Actually Have the Debate?

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Syringes of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up community vaccination center in Valley Stream, N.Y., February 23, 2021. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

I just had my first experience of being banned by YouTube. I had recorded a short video talking about the case of Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, who the University of California has put on leave. He is a physician and director of the medical-ethics program at UC Irvine. He’s one of the people who not too long ago was relied upon and hailed as a hero, who has now chosen to challenge UC’s vaccine mandate. I know a number of people who are hesitant to get the vaccine — because of research on aborted babies, because they had COVID-19, and because of other health reasons, like having an autoimmune disorder. I am aware that there are other people who are on the so-called Interwebs watching conspiracy videos — an Uber driver recently showed me some. The danger in the case of Kheriaty, who I’ve interviewed over the years, is that he is not spreading misinformation: He’s making an informed choice for himself. His case concerns me because I know other doctors — Catholic family men in similar positions — who are also making informed decisions.

I was voicing an opinion: that in our fear of COVID-19, we are conflating informed opinions with misinformation. As someone who has some opinions that are opposed by people in power in our culture and politics, that’s concerning. And I’ll be honest, on a doctor’s recommendation, I hesitated to get a COVID vaccine. But it’s impossible to operate without it in New York — and because I travel and because I certainly don’t want to infect someone who is vulnerable, I decided to get the vaccine. But shouldn’t we defend conscience rights? And shouldn’t we not be afraid of opinions? Dr. Kheriaty has helped many people in his life — including combatting depression, which seems to be a pandemic. YouTube said my short video violates their “medical misinformation policy.” But let me assure you: I am not a doctor and do not play one on TV or radio or anywhere else. Whatever your vaccination status and opinions, would you perhaps pray for Aaron Kheriaty and his family and others who are in similar positions — really believing they are taking a necessary stand in this time of mandates?

This is based on a commentary that aired on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM, Channel 129 on Thursday. 

Politics & Policy

Americans’ Taste for Big Government Sours

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United States Capitol Building (rarrarorro/Getty Images)

Over at the Washington Post Catherine Rampell highlights a problem that Democrats shouldn’t ignore on their aggressive path to pass a cradle-to-grave expansion of the welfare state:

 Since 1992, Gallup has been asking whether government should do more to solve the country’s problems. Late last year, the share answering in the affirmative surged. For the first time ever, more than half of respondents (54 percent) said they wanted more from their government. For context, the previous peak was shortly after 9/11, when the share touched 50 percent . . .

Fast-forward to today. Gallup conducted this poll again a month ago — and found that the share saying government should do more to solve problems has fallen back down to earth. Only 43 percent of Americans support more active government. That’s fairly close to the long-term average . . .

Respondents of all political persuasions, Democrats included, expressed weaker support for ambitious government than they had a year earlier. Independents showed the biggest decline, with 38 percent saying they wanted government to do more, down from 56 percent in 2020.

It means that a majority of Americans think the government is doing too much. It also means that Senators Manchin and Sinema may be more aligned with the American public than some Democrats make them out to be.

The whole thing is worth reading. I thank Tyler Cowen for the pointer.

Talking about Tyler Cowen, the numbers reported by Rampell remind me of some comments he made during a recent podcast with Ezra Klein:

TYLER COWEN: Well, I think the progressive left is not the majority. It’s not the majority within the Democratic Party, as we see from Biden, of course, being president. I think most Americans and voters are, broadly speaking, pretty centrist and agree about a lot . . .

TYLER COWEN: But I think if you take the right and the left as a whole, they’re better understood as an interacting system rather than, like, one versus the other. And I think the dynamic right now is fairly negative in some parts of society. But again, the average American, I’m not sure it’s so terrible at all.

Cowen does note that “a lot of particular institutions, like academia, like a lot of newsrooms, I absolutely think they are becoming more polarized.”

The whole thing is here. And here is my issue with one particular part of what was said. Those of you who guessed it has to do with cronyism, you win.

Culture

Netflix Fires Activist Who Opposed Dave Chappelle

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Actor Dave Chappelle in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, September 9, 2018 (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

A leader of the internal Netflix revolt who was bitterly opposed to the streamer’s decision to keep airing Dave Chappelle’s new special The Closer has just been fired. That employee was urging others angered about Chappelle’s remarks about transgendered individuals to join in a symbolic walkout next Wednesday.

The Verge says the ex-employee is black and pregnant but the person apparently uses “they” as a pronoun. (Deadline reported that the employee is black and female.) Apparently the former staffer isn’t yet speaking to the press.

Netflix confirmed the firing in a statement but emphasized that the decision was made because of a leak of inside information: “We have let go of an employee for sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company,” they said. “We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company.”

Earlier this week a Bloomberg reporter shared some uncharacteristically juicy data about how Chappelle’s specials perform (spectacularly) in an effort to frame them as bad bets for the company because they’re really expensive (over $20 million an hour). Netflix apparently doesn’t like being second-guessed about its business decisions by its own employees.

Blowback is starting to leak out of the company and into the talent sphere: Hannah Gadsby, an ultra-woke alleged comic whose standup specials also air on Netflix, blasted the company and its co-CEO Ted Sarandos with a withering but characteristically unfunny Instagram post: “F**k you and your amoral algorithm cult,” she said to Sarandos. I suspect Gadsby and Netflix won’t be working together much longer. Gadsby also attacked Chappelle for having an “emotionally stunted partial world view” and accused him of “hate speech dog whistling.”

The firing is certainly upping the ante, isn’t it? Staffers are bound to get even angrier about this, and will no doubt frame the decision as motivated by anti-trans bigotry. Yet others who value their jobs might reconsider the wisdom of criticizing their employer. I explained the controversy here and here.

Religion

Martha Sepúlveda’s Life Is Worth Living

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A believer prays inside the premises of a church in Yerevan, Armenia, November 8, 2020. (Artem Mikryukov/Reuters)

Did you hear about the woman, Martha Sepúlveda, who was set to be the first person to be killed by euthanasia in Colombia? She had canceled her phone and expected to be killed this past Sunday. She is diagnosed with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease. But death isn’t imminent. She wants to spare her adult son and everyone else — including herself — the decline that comes from the disease. I know a woman who recently died of the same disease. It was a painful suffering, but her family loved her enough to suffer with her, to love her in the suffering.

Some media hailed the expected death of a professed Catholic as a so-called death with dignity — as a declaration of independence from slavery to death’s timing. But what it really showed is the misery of treating people who are sick and disabled as if they are something other than human, as if the decrease in productivity means that they their lives are of any less value. On Sunday, the medical center that was planning on participating in her death, went back on their decision. Some of us who were praying for that miracle best be praying for her heart — no one should ever be made to feel that they would be better off dead. I know in my life I’ve experienced the unexpected consolations of being at the side of a loved one as she is dying. The mysteries of life are resplendent in the little moments of love that only the grace of time will unveil. I’m not sugarcoating the pain of death — believe me I know it is excruciating. But we don’t know the full picture. And lives are not for us to end. Please continue to pray for this dear, suffering woman, Martha Sepúlveda.

This is based on a commentary that’s airing today on The Catholic Channel, Sirius XM, Channel 129.

Politics & Policy

How Could I Forget?

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A reader points out that I failed to note in my piece today that, while running for president, Joe Biden quite literally promised to cure cancer.

Politics & Policy

McCabe’s Pension Reinstatement

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Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill, May 11, 2017. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

It is not much of a surprise that the Biden Justice Department agreed to a settlement of the lawsuit brought by former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe over the Trump Justice Department’s effort to fire him and hold him ineligible to receive his full pension. But it would be a mistake peremptorily to dismiss this outcome as nothing more than partisanship.

In addition to making no admission of wrongdoing in the settlement, the Justice Department has also left undisturbed the scathing report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz (originally appointed by President Obama and kept on by President Trump). The IG concluded that McCabe made multiple false statements to the FBI (including under oath) to cover up his role in orchestrating a leak to the press of sensitive investigative information (about a Bureau probe of the Clinton Foundation).

In February 2020 the Justice Department, under Attorney General Bill Barr, declined to prosecute McCabe on these false statements. I pointed out at the time that, in forecasting how a trial of McCabe might go before a jury in the District of Columbia, where Trump hostility runs high, prosecutors must have weighed, against strong proof of McCabe’s misconduct, the competing evidence that he was poised to exploit.

In arguing that his prosecution was the result of a political vendetta, McCabe was not just armed with unhinged tweets in which President Trump exhorted his Justice Department subordinates to take action against McCabe. (And remember that, throughout the Trump years, we repeatedly observed that Trump tweets and other running commentary on pending cases made the job of prosecutors much harder — a problem that an exasperated Barr publicly lamented.) Moreover, to repeat what I related in the above-linked column:

[N]ew Freedom of Information Act disclosures — made to meet a deadline set by District Judge Reggie Walton, which may explain the timing of the non-prosecution announcement — indicate that the Justice Department and FBI did not comply with regulations in what appears to be the rushed termination of McCabe, adding heft to the former deputy director’s claim that he was being singled out for abusive treatment, potentially including prosecution, because of vengeful politics.

It thus appears that McCabe’s case was settled because it should have been settled. McCabe had a lot to lose from further proceedings that would have returned to spotlight to the inspector general’s finding of appalling misconduct; and there is always the possibility he could have lost the case. At the same time, the Justice Department would have been embarrassed if a trial established that it had failed to comply with civil-service rules in its haste, under pressure from Trump, to remove McCabe.

Jen Psaki: What Chief of Staff Ron Klain Meant to Say Was . . .

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 9, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

At the White House yesterday, press secretary Jen Psaki said that when Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain endorsed the argument that inflation and supply chain problems are “high class problems,” what he really meant to say is that it is a relief that we don’t face high unemployment and a full-scale pandemic as well as our existing economic problems.

So, just for context, what the — what Ron Klain retweeted was a tweet from the former Chairman of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, where he said — for full context, which I think is important — “Most of the economic problems

Religion

Jesus Present in Midtown Manhattan

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photo by Kristin Meyer
(Kristin Meyer)

The actress Patricia Heaton often retweets good news and good deeds with the words “More of this please.” That was my reaction to a Eucharistic procession in New York City earlier this week. Tim Busch writes about it in the Wall Street Journal (the Houses of Worship column there is a long-standing treasure) today:

The Big Apple saw two parades on Columbus Day — or rather, one parade and one procession. Hours after the more famous march, up Fifth Avenue, about 100 Catholics, myself included, trooped up Sixth Avenue and skirted Times Square. We were carrying Jesus Christ through the city’s heart.

Our event was a Eucharistic procession, which traces its roots to Roman times, and even further back to Jewish traditions. Early versions featured prayer and singing as the faithful either traveled to or circled around a holy site. In the Middle Ages, processions grew to include the Eucharist, bread that Catholics believe becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, and that is normally consumed in Holy Communion. Eucharistic processions became a common means of responding to those who denied the Catholic understanding of Communion. They occur world-wide to this day.

We started at the Shrine and Parish Church of the Holy Innocents, a few blocks south of Times Square. Auxiliary Bishop Edmund Whalen of New York consecrated the host during the preceding Mass. It was then placed in a golden monstrance — a sunburst-like vessel with a transparent center — in preparation for the procession. It was a beacon of hope in a dispiriting time.

He shared some stories from along the way:

Confusion filled the faces of virtually everyone we passed. Phones came out to record us. More than one person stopped to ask questions. Thanks to a police escort, we constantly kept moving. As people saw us coming, they crowded on corners. Some stayed there after we passed, wondering what they’d just seen.

Standing out was the point. We wanted people to ask what kind of craziness compelled us, and also to see a stark contrast with their normal lives. Sure enough, we passed souvenir shops hawking profanity-laced T-shirts as well as cabdrivers yelling at each other and equally irritable street vendors. Virtually everyone we passed was in a hurry — whether traveling by foot, bicycle or car. But we walked slowly and deliberately, pursuing not a destination but a deeper devotion to the Lord in our midst.

The procession grew as we went. Toward the start, a delivery driver named Rick approached one of my colleagues and asked what we were doing. A former Anglican, he wanted to know why we believe the Catholic Church is the true Christian church. After learning about the nature of the procession, and our desire to send a message of love and mercy, he said that’s exactly what New York City needs. After five minutes of conversation, he hugged my colleague and went back to his delivery truck.

Another friend was approached by a bicyclist. A student studying for his GRE, he wanted to know more about Catholicism — specifically why we took time out of our day to do such an odd thing. He said that sometimes he goes to a Catholic church in Queens because it’s quiet and beautiful. This young man ended up walking with the procession for 10 blocks. Before leaving, he asked if he could come to Mass. My friend said anytime. The doors of every Catholic church are open.

The Feast of Corpus Christi in June is also a time for Eucharistic processions. This summer was a time of anti-police violence in Washington Square Park, but two Catholic Churches on either side of the park had Eucharistic processions that Sunday. They didn’t make headlines, but they undoubtedly brought peace to hearts that day. I experienced that day processing around St. Joseph’s Church what Busch describes from Monday: people stopping, looking, wondering. One young man thought it was a Gay Pride parade, commenting that it must be the most progressive Church. We didn’t have a police escort because of all of the funding cuts, but there was no danger because most people seemed to have no idea what we were doing. Walking around the block at St. Joseph’s means walking past the Stonewall Inn and national park — which could be considered Gay Pride central, and during Gay Pride month. And we did so in love, bringing Jesus.

Eucharistic processions are especially powerful after our recent lived experience of being locked out of churches during the pandemic shutdowns. I’m far from the only one who longed to be in the Eucharistic presence of Jesus. I’m so grateful for priests willing bring Jesus to the streets. I know priests who during the shutdowns, drove around with the Eucharistic Lord to the homes of parishioners. When New Rochelle had a first big outbreak, a priest drove through the streets with a hand of blessing. At a time of tremendous fear, these processions and actions and recourse point to what Christian hope is all about: the love of Jesus Christ and the power of the Resurrection, which is victory over death. It’s also a reminder: We Christians must live the joy of this hope in the midst of the world. It’s our duty, and why wouldn’t we share the love of Jesus?

I also loved the Eucharistic procession this week because it included Sisters of Life and Missionaries of Charity. To know them is to know the love of God better.

(For more on Catholic belief in the Real Presence, this is a resource.)

The Economy

Supply Chains: It’s Not Just Us

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Container ship at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif., September 29, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

With all the focus on America’s shipping delays, it’s easy to forget that the world’s biggest shipping backup is in southern China, not southern California.

That’s according to the Financial Times this morning, which reports that “a typhoon closed the ports [in Hong Kong and Shenzhen] for two days this week — but although weather often disrupts shipping, this just added to the problems from previous jams since the pandemic began. In August, a single Covid case paralysed a terminal for a fortnight in the major Chinese port of Ningbo, outside Shanghai.”

The waiting times for ships at U.S. ports are longer (seven to twelve days at Los Angeles/Long Beach and six to seven days at Savannah, compared to one to three days at Shanghai and Shenzhen), but there are more ships waiting at the Chinese ports, according to the FT. A lot more — 97 are currently waiting in Shenzhen, and 73 are waiting in Shanghai, compared to 53 and 20 at Los Angeles/Long Beach and Savannah, respectively.

Given the magnitude of global trade, it may seem odd to be talking in merely double-digit numbers, but that’s part of what makes this problem so difficult. Container ships are massive, and that’s the only way they are profitable. The economies of scale of huge ships mean that customers can transport freight for tiny fractions of a cent per pound. Since the ships are so large, there really aren’t that many of them. One cancellation or delay can have huge ramifications simply because it’s difficult to get another ship in to replace it.

Regardless of what humans do, there are entirely natural factors that affect trade no matter what. The same FT story quotes Lars Mikael Jensen of the shipping company Maersk: “We’re getting into the winter period in the northern hemisphere that will bring a return to normal challenges — snow, wind and the closures of terminals. . . . I can’t judge if we’re over the worst.”

Though U.S. ports shifting to 24/7 operations is the right call, it does nothing about Chinese ports shutting down for one case of COVID. That’s partly why the chair of DP World, one of the biggest terminal operating companies in the world, thinks that supply-chain problems could persist for the next two years. (To give you perspective on how international the shipping industry is, that link is to a story in a British newspaper about dependence on China based on an interview with a man named Sultan bin Sulayem whose Dubai-based company operates terminals in over 40 different countries.)

The price of a shipping container is a market price that is set by factors all around the world. The U.S. is a big player in that market, of course, but it doesn’t have market power to set prices. The Drewry World Container Index currently sits at nearly $10,000 per container. It was below $2,000 a little over a year ago. That’s a global market price — U.S. actions alone do not do much to move it.

The secretary of transportation being on unannounced paternity leave through this crisis looks bad politically, and the American people deserve to know when cabinet officials are out of commission. But there’s not much Pete Buttigieg can really do about this problem. (You have to wonder what the point of having a federal transportation secretary is if a national transportation problem is something he can’t do much about, but that’s another subject for another time.) There aren’t many national problems in transportation. Most problems are either intensely local (e.g., inefficient operations at a particular port) or broadly international (e.g., the high price of a shipping container).

Americans should do what they can to solve those local problems, which will in many cases involve city and state governments more than the federal government. But we shouldn’t deceive ourselves into thinking a perfectly crafted American government response will make our transportation problems go away.

Economy & Business

Er . . . This Is Pete Buttigieg We’re Talking About, Right?

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Secretary of transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg listens during a confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., January 21, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds/Reuters Pool)

As mentioned in the tail end of today’s Morning Jolt, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg deserves some grief for being away from his job for the better part of two months, as America’s supply-chain problems got worse. If the head of a federal department is going to be away from the office for two months while a major problem is getting worse . . . wouldn’t it have made sense for someone else to be named the acting secretary for the duration?

But this morning, some of the criticism is going over the top, by implying that the physical presence of Buttigieg in the office would have made a dramatic impact on the severity of the current supply-chain crisis.

Eh . . . really? This Pete Buttigieg? This guy’s focus was all that stood between some better, more manageable outcome and our current empty-shelves mess? If Buttigieg had never missed a day of work, do you really think the current supply-chain disruption would be all that different?

Isn’t the other uncomfortable fact for the administration that Buttigieg has been out on paternity leave for two months, and no one noticed?

Impromptus

Extraordinary People

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Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker kicks a field goal against the Indianapolis Colts on October 11, 2021. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Today, my column is about a gathering of democracy leaders and human-rights activists: the Oslo Freedom Forum, held in Miami this year. The people you meet are almost too extraordinary for words. The things they do, the sacrifices they make, the spirit they evince . . .

Let’s have some mail, here in the Corner. In yesterday’s Impromptus, I wrote,

I like William Shatner, a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of Star Trek — I am not a sci-fi guy, although I’ve always intended to read the celebrated novels of Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and others. But I met Shatner once, in a green room, before a panel show we were both on.

A reader writes,

Jay Nordlinger has not read any (or much) science fiction? Well, I’m certain you’re receiving many recommendations, but let me just say that Heinlein was one of two individuals most responsible for my being a conservative. The other one? George Will, of course! Both taught me that you can be pro-science and pro-reason and still land on the violet end of the political spectrum.

Oh, and my book recommendation to you: the Hyperion Cantos series by Dan Simmons. It’s The Canterbury Tales redone as science fiction, and beautifully written to boot.

Speaking of books: Yesterday, I had a post on capitalism and its moral basis. I, and readers, made a list of books that spell this out. A reader responds, “To add some balance to your list on morals and markets: The Grapes of Wrath and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Two quick comments — taking the second book first: It need hardly be said that a slave economy is not a free economy. You could call it the antithesis of one. I think of one of the great slogans in American history: “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men.”

As for the Grapes of Wrath business: Soviet authorities decided to show John Ford’s movie in 1940. They wanted audiences to see how poor the United States was. But this decision backfired on the authorities: because the people who saw the movie were astounded that the Joads, poor as they were, had a car.

I make a note in my column today: Andrei Sannikov, the Belarusian statesman and former political prisoner, told me that the Soviets always censored images of supermarkets in Western movies.

End on some football? (With some singing?) Yesterday, I wrote,

Earlier this season, Justin Tucker kicked my NFL team, the Detroit Lions, in the gut. He did it by kicking a game-winning field goal as time ran out. Tucker plays for the Baltimore Ravens. His kick was a 66-yarder — the longest field goal ever kicked in the NFL.

My friend Cristina informs me that the guy is also a singer. Want to hear him sing “Ave Maria”? Okey-doke: here.

Mitch Adams, an attorney in Tyler, Texas, writes,

I always get excited when you mention someone in your Impromptus of whom I know something independently of what you have to relate about him.

Justin Tucker and I are both alumni of the University of Texas. He was a music major, which is a little unusual for football players in a program like our alma mater’s.

Anyway, he’ll always be one of my favorite Longhorns for doing to A&M in ’11 what he did to your Lions this year. And that game against the Aggies was the last time we played them before they left for another athletic conference. It’s a great video clip to watch on YouTube. Gotta love a dogpile.

Yup, that’s here. And, again, for my column today, go here.

Biden Dismantles the Ban on Hiring Illegal Immigrants

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Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas attends a news conference along with U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz, in Brownsville, Texas, August 12, 2021. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

A new memo from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on worksite enforcement of immigration laws garnered some media and political attention because it prohibits ICE from conducting worksite raids for illegal aliens. But the memo is more than just the latest in a series of anti-immigration-enforcement directives by this administration. Rather, it represents the Left’s rejection of the very concept of illegal employment.

Step back to 1986, when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law was structured as a grand bargain that exchanged amnesty for settled illegal aliens in exchange for a first-ever prohibition against the employment of

Education

Colleges Should Have an Exit Exam

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( gorodenkoff/Getty Images)

Due to federal student-aid subsidies, college has been transformed from a fairly reliable learning experience into just an experience for many students. They don’t want anything approaching academic rigor; they want fun and a credential that they assume will open the door to prosperity. To an alarming extent, schools have chosen to accommodate them by lowering standards and inflating grades.

Would it help if college students took an exit exam to show how much or how little they have learned?

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins argues for such an exam.

“According to a 2021 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities,” she writes, “60 percent of surveyed employers said that ‘critical thinking skills’ is ‘very important,’ but only 39 percent reported that recent graduates are well-prepared in this area. Similarly, 56 percent of employers consider ‘application of knowledge/skills in real-world settings’ to be very important, but only 39 percent thought recent graduates were able to perform this task well. And 17 percent of employers below age 40 report having ‘very little confidence’ in higher education. ”

Some college grads certainly have improved their capabilities, but many others have not. It would be useful to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Watkins notes that Professor Richard Vedder has proposed a National Collegiate Exit Exam (NCEE). He points out that we have exams for specialty areas like law and accounting and argues for a post-college exam: “There is no reason we cannot do the same in higher education, perhaps developing [an NCEE] that tests for critical-reasoning skills as well as knowledge that college-educated persons should possess.”

One such exam exists, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). Few colleges use it, however. Evidently they’d rather not let the world know how little some of their students have advanced.

Watkins concludes, “Exit exams may also provide useful information on the overall quality of a given university. If an institution has poor learning outcomes, then prospective students may be inclined to opt for a different college. This sort of accountability could give colleges the incentive they need to prioritize high-quality instruction or else risk losing their competitive edge — and perhaps their funding.”

Religion

SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd Announces Resignation

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(Pixabay)

Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), announced his resignation today. He will serve in his current role through October 31.

Floyd’s resignation comes after the Executive Committee voted, after much debate, to waive attorney-client privilege for the independent investigation into how the Executive Committee has handled sexual-abuse allegations in the past. At the annual meeting in June, the convention approved a motion that demanded an independent investigation, and it stated that attorney-client privilege should be waived so investigators would have all the information they needed. Waiving privilege is an extraordinary measure, and the Executive Committee struggled for weeks to come to a resolution on whether to do it. They finally did vote to waive privilege, over Floyd’s objection.

“As President and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, I have fiduciary
duties,” Floyd wrote in his resignation letter. “The decisions made on Tuesday afternoon, October 5th in response to the 2021 Convention now place our missionary enterprise as Southern Baptists into uncertain, unknown, unprecedented and uncharted waters. Due to my personal integrity and the leadership responsibility entrusted to me, I will not and cannot any longer fulfill the duties placed upon me as the leader of the executive, fiscal, and fiduciary entity of the SBC.”

The question of waiving privilege put the SBC on the verge of a constitutional crisis. Constitutionally, decision-making power in the SBC originates solely with the messengers assembled in convention. The messengers clearly directed the Executive Committee to waive privilege. Had it not done so, it’s not clear what the next constitutional recourse would have been. Many pastors and state conventions had issued letters saying they were prepared to withhold funding for the denomination if the messengers were not obeyed.

Executive Committee members opposed to waiving privilege said the convention would be open to tremendous liability, and its mission work could be harmed. In his resignation letter, Floyd said that $702.6 million had been given to the denomination through various channels in the previous fiscal year. Members opposed to waiving privilege are concerned that plaintiffs in potential lawsuits could see that number as a huge target.

You can read the full letter and a write-up from Baptist Press here.

Media

When All Else Fails, Media Blast Ron DeSantis for Being ‘Divisive’

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Florida governor Ron DeSantis listens to questions from 60 Minutes reporter Sharyn Alfonsi during a press conference in March. (60 Minutes/Screengrab via YouTube)

I’m in awe of the lack of self-awareness of the Bloomberg reporter who pressed venture capitalist David Sacks to explain how he could possibly host a fundraiser to support Florida Governor Ron DeSantis when DeSantis is allegedly “divisive.”

However could that have happened? Well, the media relentlessly attack DeSantis for such decisions as allowing people to go to beaches because the virus doesn’t spread outdoors, or for having the same science-based masking policy for schoolchildren that obtains in the U.K. and much of the rest of Europe, then when they’re proven wrong refuse to admit error but move on to some other critique. If he’s “divisive,” it’s because of the media’s 24/7 campaign to tear him apart for the crime of being successful.

Emily Chang of Bloomberg seemed bewildered that a venture capitalist might like the way DeSantis managed Florida, whose economy notably recovered quickly during the pandemic despite its heavy reliance on tourism. Sacks sagaciously replied,

Why is he inherently more divisive than, say, [California Gov.] Gavin Newsom or someone on the other side of the spectrum? Words like ‘polarizing’ and ‘divisiveness,’ they assume a normative baseline in which everybody agrees, everybody in the tech industry agrees because they all come from a certain information bubble. And anyone who deviates from that orthodoxy is perceived as divisive. I would argue that the country — there’s a multiplicity of views, and you’re not divisive just because you don’t agree with the orthodoxy of Silicon Valley.

Common sense. Sacks, by the way, has donated to both Democrats and Republicans.

Economy & Business

The U.S. Supply Chain Makes No Sense

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The port of Long Beach as a record number of cargo container ships wait to unload in Long Beach, Calif., September 22, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

I wrote for Politico today on how we crimp our logistics with a bunch of rules and practices that are completely irrational:

So, there’s no underestimating the challenge here. Everyone along every part of the U.S. logistics chain is pointing fingers at each other, and everyone deserves some blame, whether it’s the ports, the truckers, the warehouses, the railroads or other players.

Yet the situation also highlights how, as Scott Lincicome of the Cato Institute persuasively argues, our logistics system is beset by idiotic policies and practices that make it hugely inefficient. There is a tendency in the political debate over infrastructure to assume that more — and more spending, in particular — is better, but it matters how you are making use of what you already have.

Consider our ports. U.S. facilities are nowhere near the top-performing facilities around the world. They are generally less automated and less efficient than those in other advanced economies. It takes, for instance, twice as long on average to move a container from a large ship at the Port of Los Angeles than it does at top ports in China. Ports in Asia operate 24 hours a day, matching the 24-hour-a-day pace of factories, whereas, until now, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were operating only 16 hours a day.

The White House made a pointed, if understated, reference to this in its recent fact sheet on its new logistics push, “Unlike leading ports around the world, U.S. ports have failed to realize the full possibility offered by operation on nights and weekends.”

Uh, yeah.

International

Ireland Gives up Its Tax Policy, for What?

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Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin arrives for a face-to-face European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 24, 2021. (Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters)

For years Ireland defended its low corporate-tax rate, 12.5 percent, as a matter of national sovereignty and part of an overall economic strategy that lifted the country out of poverty and into becoming one of the richer nations in Europe. The idea was to facilitate foreign investment in Ireland’s English-speaking workforce. American companies that wanted access to the European Union’s market did just that. Just a few years ago, government ministers there would call Irish taxation policy it a “red line” issue. Both parties currently running the government in Ireland ran on protecting Ireland’s tax sovereignty.

And then, a week ago, Ireland gave it up to join an OECD minimum-corporate-tax pledge of 15 percent. Irish media presented this as an inevitable evolution of the country’s position. They had to — there was hardly any debate about it in public at all. In September, the taoiseach, Micheál Martin, explained that a tax hike couldn’t be ruled out. Which was instantly translated by the island’s media as an assumption that a tax hike was inevitable. And because inevitable, probably good, yeah?

Now, there were perhaps good reasons for modifying Ireland’s economic strategy. It seems to me that Ireland’s strategy does facilitate multinational investment in Ireland and that it reaps rewards in jobs. But this comes with a price in which American and other foreign executives have a hugely outsized voice in Irish concerns. The system in Ireland also seems to favor foreign investment over native entrepreneurship. These are debates and discussions that should have been had. It could have resulted in parties taking contrasting positions and winning mandates from voters to make a generational change.

Instead, it was all presented as a fait accompli.

Media from other countries were quite clear that what had happened was that Ireland capitulated. Fig leaves were handed out. Hadn’t the Irish and others prevented there from being a global minimum effective tax of 21 percent?

This OECD agreement matters in part because it was instigated by the United States and other nations that want the running room to tax more than they do currently. The willingness of sovereign nation-states such as Ireland to build an economic strategy around low taxation was putting a limit on the taxing ability of other states.

I’m very curious to see how this plays out in the long term for Ireland. But, for now, it seems enough to observe that this is another sign that, for good and ill, the neoliberal era that began in 1979 is drawing to a close.

Economy & Business

What Has Biden’s ‘Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force’ Been Doing Since June?

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President Biden speaks in Elk Grove Village, Ill., October 7, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

President Biden, yesterday:

I want to thank my Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, which we set up in June, led by Secretaries Buttigieg, Raimondo, and Vilsack, and by my Director of National Economic Council, Brian Deese.  I want to thank them for their leadership.

If the president set up his Supply Chain Disruption Task Force in June, and the headlines in mid-October are…

CNN: “The global supply chain nightmare is about to get worse”

Bloomberg: “Christmas at Risk as Supply Chain ‘Disaster’ Only Gets Worse”

Reuters: “U.S. supply chain too snarled for Biden Christmas fix, experts say”

MSNBC: “Truck driver shortage fuels supply chain issues”

Virginia Business: “Turkeypocalypse? Supply chain issues threaten Thanksgiving main course”

Financial Times: “DP World head says supply chain problems could last for two years”

The Guardian: “‘You never know what you’re going to get’: US supply chain woes leave schools scrambling to feed kids lunch”

… then has the Supply Chain Disruption Task Force really been such a sterling success? Does Biden really want to tell the world that he told  Buttigieg, Raimondo, and Vilsack to focus on this problem four months ago, and the current messes, headaches, and worsening problems are all they have to show for their efforts?

Or was the job of the Supply Chain Disruption Task Force to disrupt supply chains? Because if that’s what they thought the objective was, everything makes more sense now.

A Further Reply to Jonah Goldberg on Reaganite Third Parties

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President Ronald Reagan delivers his address to the nation on Space Shuttle Challenger, January 28, 1986. (Ronald Reagan Library/National Archives)

I wrote on Tuesday a response to Jonah Goldberg’s call for a third party to revive Reagan/Buckley classically liberal conservatism against the illiberal aspects of Trumpism within the Republican Party. Charlie and Michael responded as well. Now, Jonah has written a reply over at The Dispatch. I will quote his reply to me:

Dan’s proposed solution is to duke it out in the primaries. I loathe the primary system, but that’s an argument for another day. The salient point here is: That’s not working. I understand why Republicans who care solely about winning have no particular interest in monkey-wrenching the party. But for

World

24/7 Port Operations a Step in the Right Direction

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Container ships wait off the coast of the congested ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., October 1, 2021. (Alan Devall/Reuters)

President Biden announced yesterday that the Port of Los Angeles, the busiest port in America, would begin to operate 24/7 to help alleviate the supply-chain constraints that are causing delays and increasing prices around the country.

Let’s hope this isn’t a temporary measure. Operating 24/7 is not extraordinary by global standards. The U.S. was the outlier for not running on nights and weekends. The port should continue to operate 24/7 simply as a matter of global competitiveness, regardless of the present logjam.

Biden’s action was a good use of the presidential bully pulpit, and it was refreshing to see the president do something other than promise to blow taxpayer money for a change. A zillion federal dollars won’t fix many of our port’s problems, which have more to do with unions and inefficient labor practices. Twisting the longshoreman union’s arm into agreeing to 24/7 hours is a step in the right direction, and it doesn’t add a line item to the federal budget.

It is only a step, though. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the neighboring Port of Long Beach moved to 24/7 operations last month, and it hasn’t fixed many problems just yet:

The Port of Long Beach struggled to increase cargo flows after it extended its opening hours, with truckers complaining that restrictions put on them for picking up and dropping off containers were too onerous. Shortages of truck drivers and warehouse workers have also posed problems across supply chains. It remains unclear how many of the terminals in Los Angeles will operate 24/7 and when those operations will begin.

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said details of the overnight hours are still being worked out with companies in the supply chain.

Ports are not just public entities. The port itself is owned by the government (in this case, the City of Los Angeles), but the terminals are privately operated. The Port of Los Angeles has seven container terminals, three dry bulk terminals (which handle things like minerals and chemicals), three breakbulk terminals (which handle things like fruit and steel), seven liquid bulk terminals (mostly for oil products), and one automobile terminal. Each of those terminals is run by a different terminal operating company.

Then, there are the various trucking companies and railroads that move goods from the port to warehouses and stores across the country. They aren’t just concerned with the Port of Los Angeles since they have regional or national networks that they serve, and they’ve suffered labor shortages independent of what’s going on off the coast of Southern California.

Ports also involve tugboat operators, customs officials, freight forwarders, and the Coast Guard — the point is it’s not as easy as changing the hours to get better results. President Biden knows that, which is why he said, “For the positive impact to be felt all across the country, and by all of you at home, we need major retailers who order the goods and the freight movers who take the goods from ships to factories and to stores to step up as well.”

There are more intermediate steps between production and consumption than most people care to think about, and it’s a miracle that anything ever gets anywhere. It’s an incredible triumph of human civilization that we’ve made that miracle commonplace to the point that it’s expected. No single person or action can put the system that makes that miracle possible back together, simply because no single person or action put it together in the first place. There are no simple fixes, and though moving to 24/7 operations is the right call, don’t expect any major improvements right away.

Media

Rogan Pushes Back

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Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience (via YouTube)

This was a really revealing clip.

Millions of people have been prescribed Ivermectin by doctors, under the theory that it has demonstrable antiviral effects. But because a few people seem to have bought out a horse dewormer that contains Ivermectin in it — the FDA and mainstream media went all in describing people who took Ivermectin as people who were taking horse paste.

Now, maybe Ivermectin isn’t all that effective on COVID. Most people recover from COVID and if you take Ivermectin during that process you may falsely attribute recovery to the drug itself. That’s all hearsay.

The interesting question is: Why do people in medical and media institutions think it is helpful to lie about such things? Why do it when obvious lies are so shattering of their credibility? You can see Dr. Gupta struggle with an answer to that.